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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Why this parent blames the mayor for teachers strike

I think the mayor is just plain wrong and at fault for the current strike. I think he set out to demonize the teachers and imply they were overpaid and under-performing.

My kid is in a Chicago public school—a really good one, with selective enrollment, great teachers, and a great new “green” school building that is LEED-certified - but has no air conditioning. And here’s the thing: It's getting warmer earlier--in the 80's last March, and hot in school. You know what? It's hard to learn and to teach when it’s too hot. The heat makes it difficult to concentrate.

Why is this relevant? The lack of air-conditioning in some schools is just one of the issues that have been raised by teachers in the current strike. In Track E schools, students were in non-air conditioned schools during several days of over 100 degrees and weeks of over 90 degrees. Were the kids there to actually learn, or to make the Board of Education feel good that they’re providing extended school hours for them?

The extended school day is another issue.  It's fine to say we need longer school days to meet current educational standards. It's not fine if you have no curriculum for those extended days-- no art, no music, no physical education, no recess.

Plus, everyone agrees that teachers should be evaluated. Teachers want evaluation so they can improve their teaching skills. But how do we know if a teacher is good? If kids like the teacher? Some kids don’t like good teachers because they enforce discipline and make them work. If the principal likes the teacher? Some principals play favorites, or penalize teachers who have spoken up about things that aren't going well. If the test scores go up? Surely test scores are unbiased data points, right?

Well, let's examine that. My kid’s school has great test scores. It also has great teachers, kids who are motivated, parents who are supportive, a new building, textbooks, computers, art and music classes, and PE. But take the same school, the same teachers and principal, and plop them down in a violent neighborhood, take away the selective enrollment, and what happens? Test scores go down. Are the teachers suddenly less qualified, less talented, less caring, and worse at teaching? No. The environment has radically changed. Introduce factors like poverty and crime, and suddenly it becomes very difficult to teach and for students to learn at the same rate.

Then what happens when a school “fails?” It's shut down, and likely re-opened as a charter school with non-union teachers. Undoubtedly, some charters are better than the schools they replaced—but overall, charters are no better.

Why disrupt neighborhoods, close schools and fire teachers just to open charter schools that perform no better?  Seems like the answer is 1) to bust the union -- the trend these days is very much towards blaming public sector unions for all our financial ills; and 2) turning public money into profit centers for individuals and corporations.

However, if you fire all the teachers, who will be left to teach? If you fire just the bad teachers, can you replace them all with good teachers? Or will you find mediocre teachers, compliant teachers, disengaged teachers, and call it an improvement? Who will go into teaching if the Board of Education and the mayor routinely put down the entire teaching profession and call into question their honesty, their commitment to their students, their quality as teachers? Who will go into a profession that demands constant continuing education if you are just told that your education and your degrees are worthless and you are paid too much?  And why is a middle-class income too much money to pay our teachers?

Failure of leadership, not teachers

When you talk to teachers, what you find is a deep anger over cuts in education funding and the feeling that the children are not being served well by the system. They argue that every school needs a social worker and a school nurse, and text books on the first day of classes, not six weeks in. They argue that the emphasis on testing forces them to teach to the test and to teach students how to fill in little circles on a form—not to teach them critical thinking, or creativity, or love of learning.  They argue that kids need art, because it unleashes creativity. They argue that kids need music and physical education, because these are lifelines for students who are otherwise drowning in the stress of their daily lives. They argue that no one should be expected to work 24% more per day and then take a pay cut. They argue that cutting health benefits means more sick days for teachers, more disruptions in the classroom. They note the major disrespect they feel from the mayor and his hand-picked Board of Education. They've been made to feel that they are at fault for everything that is wrong in the schools.

Meanwhile, Illinois is 50th in the nation in education funding. Let that sink in. And TIFs have been a major force in siphoning off money from education and into the hands of private developers, with little accountability for how those TIF dollars have been spent.

So perhaps the current situation isn’t all the teachers’ fault. Perhaps it is a major policy failure on the part of every single politician who has ever voted for a budget in the state, city, and county. Perhaps the appointed Board of Education is at fault for applying business models to education, with no basis in any research in education that has ever been done.

Perhaps the failure comes from the leaders, not the teachers.

Meanwhile, CPS parents have routinely seen their concerns dismissed by that same Board of Education. CPS parents have attended public hearings to argue forcefully against having their neighborhood schools closed, against sending their kids to other public schools and either placing them in unsafe environments or forcing them to travel through unsafe environments.  The board has consistently gone ahead with their predetermined plans for school closures, teacher dismissals, principal dismissal and the labeling of schools as “failures” even as significant improvements were being made.

For all these reasons, I think the mayor is just plain wrong and at fault for the current strike. I think he set out to demonize the teachers, imply they were overpaid and under-performing.  I think he wants to break their union so he can stop paying middle-class wages to public employees, and instead create profits for his friends in the charter industry.  I think he’s a Democrat in name only-- just like Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, he wants to break all public unions, and the police and fire-fighters unions are next on the list.  He thinks he can get away with it—but here’s hoping that he doesn’t.  

Do non-union schools perform better? Richard D. Kahlenberg, writing for the New Republic, notes otherwise:

“The theory that a non-union environment, which allows for policies like merit pay, would make all the difference in promoting educational achievement never held much water. After all, teachers unions are weak-to-nonexistent throughout much of the American South, yet the region hardly distinguishes itself educationally. Indeed, the highest performing states, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey—and the highest performing nations, such as Finland—have heavily unionized teaching forces.”

Thank you to the Chicago Teachers Union for teaching us all this past week about what the real issues are, and what the "education reform" movement is all about.  We don't need Democrats who mimic Republican talking points on education or fiscal policy.

Melissa Lindberg is a CPS parent.


klem wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

It's a contract. That's all

Lovely thoughts, and it's true that it is harder to educate low income students. However, this is an employment contract here. Not an education plan. There's nothing they can put in this contract that can address the fact that Illinois is 50th in education spending. And the money from closing all the TIFs wouldn't put a dent in the CPS deficit.

If the teachers want an evaluation plan so badly, they should propose one that passes muster with them. Or you could mention one. Also note that the reason why student test scores are included in this plan is because it is a state law requirement. Again, nothing that can be remedied with this contract.

As for those awful charter schools, they may not have test scores that rival your son's wonderful selective enrollment school. But they are putting up some of the best test scores on the west and south sides of the city. Networks like Nobel Street, CICS and Kipp are the only hope many of these students have for a decent education in a safe setting.

A teacher wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

response to klem

Noble Street, I'll give you. Their selective environment mimics the public school environment in stable neighborhoods. Please cite your sources for Chicago successes in CICS and KIPP schools in Chicago. Provide links or title, date and author for statistics that confirm your statements. I cannot find your data.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

South and Westside Charter School Response

Please do not forget that these charter schools are selective, most do not take children with special needs, and therefore are not representative of the neighborhood school. They can also fine the children's parents for behavior, forgetfulness and rule breaking, hence more parent involvement in most cases. If the fines do not work, they can boot the child back to the neighborhood school. Charter schools are not representative of the local schools.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

"But they are putting up some of the best test scores on the we"

Actually they are not putting up the best test scores in the city, only the selective enrollment charters are getting those scores. The same charter schools can remove students that they don't deem fit for the school, eliminating bad scores and improving overall tests. If the other schools could eliminate the kids who are not academically motivated then they too would show quality results. The data also shows that 20% of charters do better, 20% do about the same, and another 20% do worse than public schools. How about those? Try not to be selective with your information to prove a point. If you were in my class we would debate if that was bias or propaganda.

Poli-Chi wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago
Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Yet the charter schools

Yet the charter schools scores rank at 73% and the CPS schools rank successful scores at 75%. How is that better than the other CPS schools? Just curious?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

#6 was in response to Klem

#6 was in response to Klem

Yes I Teach wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago


Evaluation is part of the contract... Are you just another mis-informed media slave?
A suitable plan was proposed -- and rejected -- like many other items dismissed by Board that the outside arbitraitor (selected by Rham/Board) said that the teachers should have.
Get your facts straight.

Chicago dad wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago


There is an evaluation plan that the teachers have embraced that is an uncontested part of the contract. Charlotte-Danielson. See for yourself.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

the mayor is to blame for strike

great article that makes some very good points. I am willing to bet that everyone saying that air conditioning is no big deal has a.c. at their work place. I would like to see the teachers at the top CPS schools sent to the neighborhood under performing schools and lets see how they do.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

the mayor is to blame for strike

great article that makes some very good points. I am willing to bet that everyone saying that air conditioning is no big deal has a.c. at their work place. I would like to see the teachers at the top CPS schools sent to the neighborhood under performing schools and lets see how they do.

Chicago dad wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Charter "success"?

What about the charter that boasts 100% college admission but neglects to mention worse exit grades than the CPS average and the fact that about 50% of the freshman class never made it to graduation? Why do so many of the kids in KIPP schools call it the "Kids In Prison Program"? Charters are sooo not the answer, especially for the inner city kids they are targeted at.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago


So then, it is your opinion that teachers should work longer hours for the same money, work in environments that in no way support elongating attention spans? You support cutting the health benefits of teachers (that now have to work longer days in stressed environments) as well as the idea that if children don't do well on standardized test, it all falls on the teacher and she/he should be fired? This is your position? You didn't touch any of these.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago


So is he going to respond or has he crawled back?

Bottom line is this! Until the CBOE is elected by the public we are all.... students, teachers, parents, etc.... going to pay the price for the Mayor's agenda! We need to find a why to rescind the mayor's right to appoint the board and create an elected one, like 90% of the country has but Chicago does not. And THAT is the reason we all stand here today under Rahm's power. Nothing will be done to further the cause of the student until the parents have a right to elect the board themselves!

an educator wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Thank you!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much for speaking the truth and exposing the underlying issues that are being glossed over in this entire education reform debate. I'm so thankful to hear this from a supportive parent. This has made my day!

bobloblaw wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

""My kid is in a Chicago

""My kid is in a Chicago public school—a really good one, with selective enrollment, ""

So in other words you kids go to public schools that are run like private schools

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Most of us that teach at high

Most of us that teach at high performing cps schools HAVE taught at low performing schools. We've worked hard to get where are now. It's one reason the teachers are unified across the city. We know what's really going on.

AIC wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Thank you!!!!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! These are all points that we have tried to share with the public. The media doesn't do a very good job of pointing out that Rahm has buddies in the charter school system, among other things. Thank you for doing the research and understanding what we are up against!!! Your post was such a relief to read.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Teachers' working conditions

Teachers' working conditions and education plans are one in the same. All teachers should be allowed to use best practices and if they have to teach to a test to keep their jobs, they won't be. plain and simple. Are YOU a teacher? If not, then I don't expect you to understand the realities of the urban classroom.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

That is not how selective

That is not how selective enrollment works, do some research please!

Chicago dad wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

NO bobloblaw

Her kids go to a public school that is an example of how ALL public schools should be run. The rest of America is sick and tired of trolls like you who think pulling everyone else down into their cesspool is the way to solve our problems. No worries, we'll get 'er done and you can benefit from the trickle across even though you didn't help.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago


Danielson- Research based! Mayor's plan- $$ based, and rejecting of valid research! see for yourselves:

This is a letter sent by experts and researchers from area universities to the CBOE and Rahm Emanuel about the flaws and problems with his evaluation plan. all based on research.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Charlotte Danielson

Have you watched her videos??? Do you think anyone on the board has watched just one of her videos?

I can't imagine her teaching in any low income school! My students would be bored to tears. And yet … She has written the rubric for the rest of us. Amazing!

klem wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Look at the Illinois School Report Cards

You can google Illinois School Report Cards.

Charters: Locke, Learn, Namaste (for example) score better than state average. Kipp, UNO do better than the district average. That's just for a start.

West side schools: There are a lot. But you can start with Brunson, Hay and Key. All of the above charters perform better than those.

klem wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Charters do take kids with special needs

That's a CTU myth that charters do not take kids with special needs. I run a youth program and know a LOT of SN kids who go to these schools. Noble Street's Rowe Clark has the best high school special ed in the city.

You all can rehash the CTU talking points all you want. I know kids who go to these schools, and I see what actually is happening.

klem wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago


Teachers aren't gonna be working longer hours because they are hiring extra teachers (or paying the same ones who wouldn't work for free) to cover for extended day. Move on...

Teachers won't be paying more for health benefits if the wellness program is adopted. You gotta beef with the wellness plan? Move on...

Standardized test results will account for less than 50% of teacher evaluation. I understand low income kids may not do as well, which is why they look at the progress that was made. This may not be a perfect system, but at least it's a start. And it's better than CTU's stance that we can't expect poor kids to learn anything. Next?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Make sure you all continue to

Make sure you all continue to vote for Rham (Obama)...

Chicago dad wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Danielson Framework???

WOW, anon, you just didn't read the report at all, did you? ROFLMAO! The Create report expresses concerns with VAM, and only mentions C-D in passing as one of the other things CPS has simultaneously dumped on the teachers in the mistaken belief that it can all be done in everyones spare time at work. Next time read what you post before making claims that show your foolishness.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

I know for a fact that some

I know for a fact that some don't honor IEP's. I Know people that actually work at the school.

Chicago dad wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Poor kids can learn

It's da mayor, not CTU that thinks they can't learn. show one quote form the CTU to that effect. crickets............VAM "at least it's a start"? No it's nothing but a detour to where the bridge is out. Not a perfect system? It 's not even substandard. It is however a cash cow for testing companies.

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